Ministry Resources

Leaders Communicate

Afke was the leader of the men’s ministries group in his church. He had plans for a new project and was enthusiastic.

“This is our opportunity to do something very good for the church,” he told his wife. “The men in my group are all good Christians, eager to serve the Lord. They are capable men, too. Even though they are busy, they are willing to give time for a project like this. I’ll make it as easy for them as I can.”

Later, in the men’s meeting, he announced his plans. “You will find your assignment quite easy,” he assured the men with a confident smile, “because I have worked out all the details.”

Mr. Andberg had joined the group recently. Before moving there he had been an active worker in another church. He was looking forward to having a place of service. He felt his experience was valuable, and he wanted to work for the Lord During the discussion time in the meeting he spoke out boldly. “This is a project I understand,” he declared. “You don’t have to work out every detail. I will do my part.”

“Well, this is my responsibility,” Afke answered, “I’ll give you an assignment as soon as I have completed the plans.”

That evening Mr. Andberg complained to his wife. “That Afke thinks he knows everything. He is interested in his own power and thinks none of us is capable. Says he’ll make everything easy for us. Thinks he’s the only one who wants to work for the Lord.”

That evening Afke complained to his wife. “That Mr. Andberg thinks he knows everything. He wants to show off his ability. Doesn’t want to cooperate with the group.”

Afke and Mr. Andberg illustrate for us what may be the greatest problem in Christian leadership, the failure of leaders to communicate their real meaning to those with whom they work. In this lesson, we will learn to understand and solve such problems.

Joshua – Leader with a Clear Message

In Joshua’s life and work we can find an illustration of almost every characteristic and behavior associated with leadership. He learned from Moses first to follow and then to lead and inspire others. He had problems with people and made some mistakes when he failed to seek the Lord’s guidance. He laid out careful
plans. He set the example in courageous action. He worked through others, such as the spies and Rahab, in order to reach his objectives. There is no doubt that Joshua was an ideal leader and a model in many ways. For this lesson, however, we will limit our study to one outstanding characteristic: He understood and utilized with unique success the basic principles of communication. He was a leader who knew how to communicate with God and man.

We began this lesson with a situation that illustrates the failure of a leader to communicate properly. Afke believed the men were capable but busy. He was sincere in his desire to help them. Mr. Andberg was sincere in his desire to work for the Lord. Yet each man misunderstood the meaning the other tried to express.

The fact that it is possible for God’s people to misunderstand one another is made plain in one of the incidents in the book of Joshua. Remember that the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh received their share of land on the east side of the Jordan. They went with the other Israelites to possess the land west of the Jordan. When the battles were won, they were given a blessing by Joshua and sent back to their inheritance (Joshua 22).

“When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan” (Joshua 22:10). This made the other tribes so angry that they wanted to fight a civil war. It had been agreed that no altar for sacrifice was to be erected except at Shiloh. The purpose of this was to keep the worship of the true God completely separate from any heathen altars that might be placed anywhere. So the
Israelites accused their brothers of rebellion—breaking faith with the agreement and disobedience against God.

The people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were horrified. “No!” they cried, “We had no plans to make sacrifices in this place. You do not understand our meaning. We simply want everyone to know that we are a part of the same people who worship the true God at Shiloh! We want to honor
the Lord, not disobey Him. We want the future generations to know that we are a part of His people!”

Do you see how these people who had so recently fought side by side were now ready to fight each other? But as soon as the other tribes understood the true meaning of the altar they were pleased. Everyone rejoiced. Communication made the difference.

This account is significant because it helps us see why the people needed a leader like Joshua. The Lord knew that the great need at this time was for clear instructions and careful guidance every step of the way. Here, at the beginning of a new life in unknown circumstances, there must be a strong leader who would listen to the Lord and bring understanding to the people.

Joshua was trained by Moses to be a brilliant general. Even more important, he was taught to know and follow the Word of God. His call to leadership came with God’s command and God’s promise: “Lead these people to inherit the land . . . Be strong and very courageous . . . The Lord your God will be with you (Joshua 1:6–9).

Evidently, Joshua had a humble attitude toward himself as a person, for God told him several times not to be afraid. Yet, when he was sure of his calling, he began to demonstrate at once his courage and confidence. His first act of leadership was to give clear directions and precise instructions to the officers: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own”’ (Joshua 1:10–11).

From this point on, Joshua shows great ability to communicate with his people and deep understanding of the importance of various kinds of communications skills. We find in the book of Joshua seven distinct types of communication. Keep your Bible open so you can refer to the examples as we discuss each one briefly. You may wish to mark them in the Bible for future reference.

Words of Instruction

Joshua 2:1; 3:2–4, 9; 8:3–8

Officers went throughout the camp explaining to the people exactly what they should do. Joshua made certain that everyone heard and understood when plans were being made for the various activities in the march and the conquest. Special directions were repeated for the various tribes. Individuals and groups were called out for special assignments. Each action was explained for all of those who shared in the responsibilities. “Come here and listen,” said Joshua (Joshua 3:9). No detail was overlooked. Every person received the information needed in order to do his part.

The results of this careful instruction are evident in the mission of the spies to Rahab, the crossing of the Jordan, the fall of Jericho, and all the successful campaigns. The people, with very few exceptions, “did as Joshua commanded them” (Joshua 4:8). Because they knew what was expected of them, they were able to act with confidence and in cooperation with one another.

Words of Encouragement

Joshua 3:5; 10:24–25; 23:5

Joshua said to his men, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings . . . Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . This is what the Lord will do . . .”
(Joshua 10:24–25). Joshua shared moments of victory and encouragement with his followers. He helped them see that each triumph was more than a task completed. It was a promise for the future, too. It was evidence of the Lord’s blessing, which could be expected to continue. In this way the people were strengthened in their faith and their devotion to their mission.

Commands and Orders

Joshua 6:16

As a military leader, Joshua found it necessary to give many direct commands and orders. We see from our example in the fall of Jericho that there are times when a leader must require complete obedience. Joshua sets for us the example of a leader who treats his followers with care and respect. The people soon began to trust and respect him, too. Then, when the need for obedience arose they were willing to respond. This is a lesson that all leaders, especially those who work with very young people, need to learn.

Information (Teaching)

Joshua 24:1–13

Joshua reminded the people of their history and purpose. As a wise leader, he knew it was his duty to keep them informed and aware of important facts affecting the work as a whole. Basic truths and scriptural teachings must be made constantly fresh to people who work for the Lord. Joshua did not say, “Everyone should know this by now.” He repeated God’s words patiently again and again. Communication is never a completed project. It is a process for which every leader is continually responsible.

Persuasion (Exhortation)

Joshua 23:6-16; 24:14–24

Much of the communication in Christian work takes the form of exhortation, or preaching. Some leaders seem to think that all communication is of this type. They seem always to be urging the people to act, trying to persuade them to do the will of the leader. When persuasion is used too much in this way it ceases to be effective. Joshua gives us examples of good use of persuasion. The Lord led him to speak to the people concerning their commitment for the future. Notice four main elements in Joshua’s words. All effective persuasive communication follows this pattern:

1. Appeals to the mind. “You know what has happened before, so it is logical for you to believe that God will continue to work in the same way” (See Joshua 23:14–16).

2. Warns. “If you violate the covenant of the Lord . . . the Lord’s anger will burn against you” (Joshua 23:16).

3. Challenges. “Be very strong” (Joshua 23:6).

4. Gives opportunity to respond. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

Records and Reports

Joshua, chapters 12–20

Communication may be in written form as well as in spoken language. Joshua performed one of the essential duties of leadership by maintaining good records and writing reports of the activities. In this way, the results of his efforts were communicated accurately. They may not enjoy filling in forms and keeping records, but all good leaders agree that such work is necessary. How much less we would understand about God and His people if His chosen leaders had not kept records!

Symbolic Communication

Joshua 4:1–9

“What do these stones mean?” Communication is the process of getting meaning from one person to another. This is accomplished not only by spoken and written language but also by various kinds of symbols. Joshua used a pile of stones to communicate a most important message. Symbolic communication used in our churches today includes the arrangement of furniture, such as the altar and the type of clothing worn by ministers. Kneeling, clapping, and waving are symbolic communications. A good leader learns that the people find meaning in his bodily movements and facial expressions, whether or not he intends for them to do so. Therefore, it is important to understand how to communicate effectively through symbols as well as words.

The Communication Process

Leaders Recognize Barriers

Now that we have examined several examples of communication, we are ready to analyze the process. Let’s begin with a list of the parts or components we have observed. First, there is the source of the material to be communicated, or the person who wishes to communicate. The source person has an intent, or a meaning. This may be an idea, a feeling, or some information. There is a receiver to whom the meaning is directed. The receiver is not an empty vessel but a person with perceptions that probably will have some effect upon the meaning that is received. The source person must select a method or methods, such as language and other symbols, by which to express the meaning. The purpose of the communication process is to have the receiver understand the meaning exactly as it is intended by
the source person.

Most of us never realize how difficult it is to accomplish this purpose. Between the meaning that is intended and the meaning that is received are numerous barriers. One way to understand the communication process is to consider some of these barriers. Then, we will see how good leaders communicate effectively
by overcoming the barriers. Following is a brief description of seven barriers that are most likely to cause problems.

1. Language.

Some words have more than one meaning. Some words have distinct meanings in certain geographical areas. Many biblical terms have special or figurative meanings. Remember the problem Nicodemus had with the term born again? (See John 3:1–12.) Communication is not satisfactory unless the speaker
(or source person) and the receiver understand words in the same way.

2. Symbols.

Much of what we communicate is not spoken at all. One pastor relates that he was first induced to join a Bible class by the way the teacher held her Bible. “I knew she loved that book,” he said, “and I wanted to find out why it was so special to her. She held it tenderly and turned the pages in a loving way.” This was symbolic communication of a positive kind. Barriers to communication are created when symbols (gestures, movements, facial expressions, voice tone) do not agree with the spoken message. For example, suppose a person said, “I love the Bible,” and then threw it down carelessly and forgot it. What would be communicated—love or disrespect?

3. Customs.

Every group of people develops certain ways of behavior, which are called customs. Sometimes these ways are accepted so completely that people believe they are the only right ways. For example, in some groups women are expected to shake hands when they meet and in other groups they are expected to touch their cheeks together. When such customs are not observed properly, communication breaks down, sometimes to the point of painful misunderstanding.

4. Prejudice.

We cannot communicate effectively with people we do not accept as our equals in the sight of God. In the Bible, we have several references to prejudice, which interfered with communication. Because the Israelites generally considered Samaritans and all Gentiles inferior to themselves, even the gospel of Jesus could not be communicated adequately. For this reason, the Lord spoke to Peter in a vision and guided him in overcoming the barrier of prejudice (Acts 10).

5. Status.

Most people find it difficult to communicate with those in positions which the society considers lower or higher than their own. Usually, it is easier for two farmers to communicate with each other than for a farmer and a hired field worker. There are wealthy Christians who never witness to their servants. There are Christian servants who never witness to their employers. Dedication to the Lord and love for souls are made ineffective because of communication barriers in these cases. An essential skill that must be learned for successful leadership is how to communicate with individuals on various social levels and in various organizational positions. The first step is to be aware of the status barrier and sincerely desire to overcome it.

6. Age and gender.

Closely related to status are the age and gender of those who attempt communication. Older leaders may find it particularly difficult to reach young people. Their values and interests may be very different. For example, a leader announced that the young people who cooperated with a certain project would be rewarded
by a dinner at the pastor’s home. The young people were not impressed. They preferred a picnic by the lake. The leader felt embarrassed and angry. The project was not a success.

Relations between males and females all over the world have been strained by the modern perception of equality for women. Sensitive Christian leaders will not ignore this issue. They will think about it, pray, and try to understand the values and the needs of both genders and all age groups. This is a difficult task, but Christian leaders have the advantage of knowing that everyone has a place in God’s great circle of love.

7. Personality.

Every group situation is composed of unique individuals. A major leadership task is to bring understanding and cooperation so that group goals will be accepted and accomplished. In order to do this the leader must communicate with the individuals. He or she must not make the mistake of believing that the message he or she sends will be received in the same way by every person in the group. He or she must realize that the end result of the communication process is not the meaning intended by the sender but rather the meaning perceived by each receiver.

The Significance of Perception

We have said that the receiver’s perception determines the meaning of a message. In other words, the message actually means whatever the receiver thinks it means. Therefore, we must know something of how someone perceives in order to communicate with him or her.

The way a person perceives is partly the result of factors we listed previously such as age, gender, status, and customs. Two other significant factors are personality traits and field of experience. Experts in the study of communications use the personality type classifications of Carl Jung to explain how different interpretations (or perceptions) result from the same message. According to this classification there are four personality types, as follows:

1. Thinking people, who want a leader to explain everything with careful attention to facts and logic.

2. Feeling people, who need emotional inspiration and challenge.

3. Sensing people, who need demonstrations and examples.

4. Intuitive people, who are quick to jump to conclusions and look for hidden meanings.

Leaders who understand that these four personality types may be represented in their groups will be able to present balanced messages. They will understand why some in the group respond more at one time than another. They will be able to approach individuals in the most appropriate manner and make assignments suitable to the needs and interests of the workers. They will be able to offer training and guidance in the most effective ways. Because they understand that these types of behavior are typical, they will not feel personally offended or angry when someone fails to understand a message.

Another way to classify personality types is by the degree of dependence or independence expressed. The dependent person (sometimes called responsive type) needs to receive detailed instructions from a leader. The independent person (sometimes called assertive type) needs opportunities to express his or her own ideas. He or she wants the leader to give more general suggestions and allow him or her freedom for creativity. Obviously, it is greatly to the leader’s advantage to know how these types interpret a message.

All perception is dependent upon the field of experience, and all communication is dependent upon a shared field of experience. That is, messages can be sent and received only if the sender and the receiver share basic fields of experience, such as language. In addition to the basic shared experiences of a group, each person has a particular set of experiences that causes him to think and feel in certain ways. This includes dramatic experiences, such as fighting in a war and living through a storm, and personal life situations, such as occupation and marriage. Meanings attached to certain items, places, people, and ideas can be changed tremendously because of an experience. Therefore, when there is a greater amount of shared experience, there is a better foundation for communication. All communication
must begin in the area of shared experience, and all messages from a source person must pass through the receiver’s field of experience.

Communication is effective when there is shared experience and when barriers are overcome.

Leaders Overcome Barriers to Communication

At this point, we have learned enough to avoid the greatest error leaders make in their attempts to communicate. That error is to believe that whatever they say is understood by the hearers. We are now aware that good communication is a complex process. Our next step is to learn what we can do to be sure the receiver perceives our messages as we intend them. We learn to overcome the barriers to communication by turning them into gateways. Following are some practical suggestions:

1. Know what you wish to communicate. Find out how well you can communicate with yourself. Write out or express aloud in meditation exactly what you have in mind before you make a formal presentation or an important announcement. Have a clear, precise objective rather than a hazy idea as to the subject of your communication. Get into the habit of making notes and outlines.

2. Know as much as possible about the people with whom you wish to communicate. We see from our previous discussion that a leader will never be able to send messages that every receiver will understand in exactly the same way. Nevertheless, very good results are achieved by leaders who understand the principles of perception, personality types, and the field of experience. The more you know about your people, the more you share their field of experience and the more likely you are to communicate with them in a satisfactory manner.

3. Show genuine respect equally for people and their gifts, talents, and interests. Give them reasons to believe that what you say is important to them as well as to you.

4. Choose correct and precise language. Speak in an honest, open manner, not vaguely, as though you were keeping to yourself some important information you cannot share with them. Use exact words wherever possible. That is, do not use terms such as a lot, only a little, a short time, or your fair share. If there is a problem, speak it out clearly to the involved parties. Never leave a vague impression that some unnamed person is at fault. Someone is sure to misunderstand and feel hurt or angry.

5. Encourage response. One way to find out whether or not your messages are being understood is to ask for questions and comments. If you are in charge of a particular group, establish regular information channels. Make certain people responsible for reports and announcements. Indicate by your manner and words that all contributions are welcome.

Listening is Part of Communication

Successful leaders know how to listen as well as how to send messages. There are four stages in the listening process. First is hearing. This is the physical reception of sound waves. The next stage is attention. We hear many sounds to which we pay no attention, so most of them are meaningless. When we select a sound from among those we hear, this is attention. When we give attention to a sound, we can begin to understand it as a message. The last stage of the listening process is remembering. When we have understood a message and put it into the mind’s storage, we can say we have completed an act of listening.

Effective listening begins with putting your attention on what is being said by another person. This requires effort. For example, adults may hear children speaking and not really listen. What they say is not considered important enough to make that special kind of effort required to listen. If you feel superior to a person you may find yourself not really listening to what he or she says. If you are in a hurry or have your mind on another matter, you may hear words and even answer without really listening.

You can develop listening skills if you are motivated to do so. You can say to yourself, “I want to understand this person’s idea (or problem) exactly as he or she intends me to understand it.” You must believe that the person is important and that his or her message has some significance. Remember and practice the following rules for effective listening.

1. Concentrate your physical and mental energies on listening.

2. Demonstrate interest and alertness with your body and eyes.

3. Avoid interrupting the speaker.

4. Do not show strong disagreement until the speaker has completed a message. Look for opportunities to indicate agreement with body movement such as leaning forward or nodding your head.

5. Search for meanings and avoid getting hung up on specific words.

6. Be patient. Do not act as though you are in a hurry.

7. Ask questions when you don’t understand, but keep your questions quiet and objective.

8. Do not respond emotionally, but answer in an objective manner after the message is completed.

9. Try to separate facts from opinions in what you hear, so that you will have a basis for evaluating the message and giving a reply.

10. Try to discern what type of response the person expects— information, help, or simply assurance and caring?

Feedback is a Part of Communication

Successful leaders know how to reply as well as how to send messages and listen. A communication cycle includes transmission of a message from sender to receiver and then a return message, which is called feedback. The return message may be verbal or nonverbal. We have mentioned this in our discussion of listening, as good listening is a type of feedback.

When people try to communicate with a leader and do not receive adequate feedback, they tend either to feel rejected or to reject the leader. Have you spoken into a recording device or in an empty room? It is not the same as talking to people, is it? The difference is that there is no feedback. This is similar to the uncomfortable feeling people have with a leader who does not give good feedback.

An important effect of feedback on the communication process is to help both the speaker and the hearer understand correctly. Sometimes you can tell by facial expressions (nonverbal feedback) whether or not people understand your message.

Another effect of feedback is the development of self concept. In a leadership situation, the leader uses feedback to encourage people and help them to believe they are capable of accomplishing the tasks and reaching the goals. Too much negative feedback (pointing out faults and mistakes, scolding) can cause people to become discouraged and feel incapable of achievement.

Feedback definitely affects performance. Studies show that workers who do not receive feedback from their leaders lose interest in their tasks. Good performance results partly from good self-concept. Also, there is satisfaction in knowing that the leader is interested and aware of what each worker is doing. Much feedback comes spontaneously, but good leaders can learn how to provide feedback in conscious and effective ways. As you lead people in Christian service, the feedback you give often will be in the form of helping with tasks and evaluating what has been done. For example, you may be leading a group of teachers, and you want to help them improve their performance. In group discussions, or individually, you will find opportunities to let them know what the desired outcomes are and how you
feel about their work. Here are some suggestions to guide you in providing this type of feedback.

1. Emphasize performance, not personality. You will say to a worker, “This work needs to be improved,” without giving the impression that you think he or she is careless or not dedicated to God.

2. Use descriptive words rather than evaluative words. It would be better to say a teacher needs to study than to say he or she is lazy.

3. The timing of feedback is important. When a worker asks for help or advice it should be given immediately, if possible. People should not be corrected when they are discouraged or when time is too limited for discussion.

4. Amount of feedback is important. Usually, it is better to give a small amount of feedback at a time. On the other hand, the leader must not leave a person feeling uncertain.

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